Republic Square, or Prokurative as it is known locally, is Split’s magnificent (and largest) of public squares. Because of its Neo-Renaissance style and usage of Venice as a model, walking through Trg Republike is like stepping into Venice. And it’s not only this square that one has the feeling of being in Italy—Croatia and Italy share a long history dating back thousands of years. Located just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, Croatia was geographically located at the centre of the Roman Empire. This proximity bound the Dalmatians to the Venetians—who were regarded as the Mistresses of the Adriatic—as they shared both culture and language. Today, though Croatia and Italy are two separate countries speaking languages from two separate language families, the pair have much in common: architecture, food, weather, lifestyle, landscape. Yet still, even with all of these superficial similarities, the people still hold onto their own traditions, their own uniqueness, their own culture—and Croatia is a country worth getting to know.
While Malaga itself might not be the prettiest place to be, heading out into the Andalusian countryside is certainly a fantastic way to experience southern Spain! While much is Spain indeed a desert, that does not make it any less beautiful. Andalusia is dotted with beautiful little Pueblos Blancos (White Villages), both quaint and awe-inspiring. However, be sure to pay attention while traversing the countryside in search of these villages – along the way, you’ll be privy to some interesting architecture as well as some of the most spectacular scenery. Spain is a very old country with a long history of changing nationalities. Unlike many central European destinations, it was not razed during the world wars. Peppered throughout the countryside, you will find ancient buildings, beautiful towns, amazing recipes in tiny restaurants, charming villages, lovely people and a vibrant culture. Keep yours eyes glued to the window because you never know what kind of treasures you may find – like this fantastic abandoned building, only a few kilometers from Malaga!
The Flåmsbana rail system—built to allow easier access to the Sognefjord—traverses the beautiful Flåm Valley, giving voyagers breath-taking views of Norway’s amazing scenery. The Flåmsbana railway is one of the steepest railways in the world—something like 80% of the 20-kilometer-long railway is over 50% gradient. That means it gains one meter per every 18! One of the most remarkable aspects of the rail (views aside!) are the twenty tunnels. All but two were constructed without the use of machinery, meaning about one meter per month—so it’s amazing that they ever finished. Not only that, but the Flåmsbana has enjoyed amazing success, and is still one of Norway’s biggest attractions. As for the theme of ‘reflections,’ this photo was shot from the window as the train headed into a tunnel. The reflection of the women sitting opposite was reflected by the glass, appearing as if she were part of the mountain in true Pocahontas-style. The symbolism seemed appropriate!
A Baltic gem. The Baltic Gem. Any interest in seeing what a beautifully preserved medieval city with Hanseatic buildings, all hardly touched by modern times, while still full of life and culture looks like? Go to Tallinn. Capital of a little country hidden away in the north-eastern corner of Europe, Tallinn is a city that doesn’t make many travel itineraries. Its popularity is growing, but at the moment, it is still a quiet city full of beautiful architecture recognised by UNESCO by day—and crazy street parties by night. While living under various foreign influences for large chunks of its’ history, the Estonians have persisted, and eventually received their independence in 1918-20 (which was lost to the Nazis and the Soviets but regained in 1991). Tallinn is a symbol of strength and resistance, a symbol of the Estonians’ reverence to their own history, art, language, and traditions, and a symbol of freedom, of independence, of culture.
Ah the infamous rugged Scottish coast. Perhaps because of its northern location, perhaps because of its sparse population, or perhaps because of its numerous castles and famous myths, legends and stories that have come out of this small country, Scotland always seems so…remote and rugged, in a rather romantic way. Little seems to have changed in Scotland over the years. One of the nicest ways to see Scotland is by train—and the best time? Early morning! Scottish sunrises such as this one are mystical, reminiscent of bygone Scottish tales of giants, dwarfs, warriors, and other fantastical creatures. Of course, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen are beautiful and bustling metropolises, but if you want to feel like you’ve stepped off the page of a Scottish legend, jump on a train head for the northern coast, and get there in time to catch the sunrise!
France is, of course, a beautiful place – but one of the prettiest places in the country wasn’t officially France for a large part of the last two centuries. Alsace – as well as its sister, Lorraine – played monkey-in-the-middle since the fall of the Roman Empire, bouncing between what constitutes as present-day France and Germany, depending on who had more power at that moment. Because of this, Alsace has both a distinctly German AND French feel to it, making it a unique place. Long before there was a “France” or a “Germany,” these two European giants have shared thousands of years of history, culture, and people. Even today, one finds many Frenchmen with German heritage and vice versa. The famed Gutenberg spent over 15 years of his life in Strasbourg, developing a new idea of his – what we call movable type, otherwise known as the printing press. Aside from shared history, Strasbourg’s beautiful wattle-and-daub architecture along the river is to die for. Known for its exceptional Christmas markets, it’s also a great place to sample vin chaud (hot wine), crepes, as well as regional Germanic specialties such as choucroute garnie (sauerkraut), pork sausages or foie gras. Visit Place Guttenberg and Petite France to become a part of this region’s colourful history.
Neoclassicism. What an invention. Back in the mid-18th century, a resurgence of Greek and Roman architecture became a la mode. The opposite of the naturalistic Rococo style, Neoclassicism strove to return to the “purity” of Greek and Roman styles, mirroring their symmetry, geometric design and perspective. The famous Italian architect Andrea Palladio played an instrumental role with the construction of his famous albeit peculiar Villa Capra “La Rotonda,” which he based on Roman temples and other similar designs. One of the most striking creations to come out of this architectural period is the Vilnius Cathedral, circa 1783, located in central Vilnius. One doesn’t normally imagine a Catholic cathedral in the capital city of an Eastern European country to resemble an ancient Roman temple—but there you have it, and there it is – see for yourself. Lithuania is full of surprises!
Nope, not quite a castle. This fortified structure is the Barbican, originally built in 1540 in between the Old and New cities by Jan Baptist the Venetian, an Italian expat living in Poland. Of course, no sooner had the workers finished their project than this type of fortified barbican became archaic in light of the recent invention and explosion of artillery weapon usage. (Only once was it used to defend the city; in 1656 against the formidable Swedish Army). Almost entirely destroyed during WWII (like roughly 85% of Warsaw), it was later rebuilt by the Polish government based on 17th century etchings under the theory that it would bring in tourism dollars. Today, it still serves little purpose other than making a dramatic way of walking down ul. Nowomiejska in the middle of the old (although it’s rebuilt, so actually quite new) centre of Warsaw.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” (Mark Twain). Well, it takes both your eyes and imagination to process the ceiling of the enormous portico attached to the Blenheim Palace. Famous as being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, it is the only non-royal house in England to hold the title of “palace.” And palace it is! Built in 1705-22, it was intended to be a gift to the 1st Duke of Marlborough for his prowess on the battlefield at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 (hence the name). But the eyes? They were painted there by the second wife of the 9th Duke. An American socialite who squirmed her way into the title of Duchess by becoming friends with his first wife then taking advantage of his loveless marriage to eventually become his second wife and start her own loveless marriage, Gladys was a bit eccentric. A self-proclaimed mystic, the new Duchess came from a broken home (her father was imprisoned for killing her mother’s lover when she was a child, she lived in a convent for awhile and grew up in Paris with her divorced mother). This certainly seems to have affected her; images of eyes appear all over the massive house (though none as striking as those pictured above), and she slowly went crazy over the years before dying a recluse. The house is still owned and lived in by the Duke of Marlborough (the 11th), though parts of the house are open to visitors, which has been recognised by UNESCO.
Resting on the banks of the famous (though not always blue) Danube, Linz has neither the splendour of Vienna nor the musical reputation of Salzburg. However, what Linz does have is the ability to let visitors truly integrate into Austrian culture while avoiding the crowds of Linz’s two overwhelming neighbours. Situated almost equidistant from both Vienna and Salzburg, a quick stopover in Linz is both easy and logical. A city almost always overlooked because it didn’t manage to produce nearly as many musical genii as Austria’s other cities, it did manage to create the Linzertorte, a type of lattice-topped pastry filled with jam, which one can eat while learning German from cheerful shopkeepers, biking down cobble-stoned lanes, and watching swans float down the Danube. And that, in itself, is reason enough to visit!
Far from creepy, Vienne’s Pipet Cemetery is actually quite beautiful. Climbing to the top of the hill is a fantastic experience as it provides a view of the fantastic ruins of the medieval castle. The view of Chateau de la Batie seems straight out of an 18th century romantic painting—rugged hill, rocky cliffs, ruined castle, grey cemetery—and yet, the view is entirely authentic. Perched at the top of Mont Salomon, the castle was built on the foundations of Roman ruins in the 1225 by the archbishop of Vienne in order to protect the city from would-be medieval attackers. While the castle is not open to the public, it turns a rather ordinary landscape into something dramatic, romantic and even extraordinary to behold.
I’m not quite sure how much of this is a working door and how much of it is just a painting. To me, it looks bit as if it walked straight off a page of a Dr Seuss book. And to think that this is downtown Dublin! Of course, Dublin is amazing for all the normal reasons: Guinness, stag parties, pubs that once watered the likes of Joyce and Wilde, Seamus Heaney, Shaw, and good ol’ Samuel Beckett. But the real reason for Dublin’s greatness? It’s a city where oddity is preferred over normalcy, a city that embraces insanity, spunk, colour and vivacity with streets that flow with life. Perhaps it was all those pints of Guinness and Murphy’s and Kilkenny over the years, but Dublin seems to have inspired artists on all levels, and the entire city literally vibrates with life (except, perhaps at 7 am, after the party. Then Dublin quiets down a bit…). No matter where you go, Dublin’s art and life always follow.
The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, palm trees loom in the city centre as people happily stroll down the streets, and everything covered in the lovely golden glow of the afternoon sun. Where am I? California? Florida? The Caribbean? The Mediterranean? Spain? Portugal? Italy? Thailand?! Nope, nope, nope. Believe it or not, this palm tree is in Warsaw. Poland. But isn’t Poland really cold? Isn’t it mostly landlocked? Isn’t it snowy and grey and miserable?! Well…not always. It can be warm and sunny and blue-skied, if you know when to go! That said, this palm tree isn’t real. It’s a plastic statue built by artist Joanna Rajkowska as part of the Centre for Contemporary Art. It was only supposed to be displayed for one year (Dec 2002-Dec 2003) but it was so popular that it stayed. While it’s fun to confuse the newcomers (“just head south through the old town, turn left at the palm tree and cross the bridge”…huh!?), it does get pretty bizarre and even a little depressing in winter when the tree’s fantastic palms become snow-laden and hidden in fog.
Europe is known for its castles. In fact, it has so many castles that countless sit neglected and forlorn, hidden in the woods, crumbling off cliffs, overlooking dusty train tracks, forever closed for non-funded restoration projects. Many are in disrepair. Some have become hotels, private residences or galleries of modern art. Carcassonne—well, it didn’t quite follow that path. One of the most famous castles in France, and certainly one of the most well-preserved medieval castles du monde, Carcassonne is a beautiful example of what happens to a walled city and chateau that is repaired, preserved, and promoted as a tourist destination. In summer, numbers of tourists soar, so perhaps try to avoid peak season. Settlement on the hill dates back to 3500 BC, though the castle itself is from the 10th-12th centuries. It is fortified by 3m of thick stone walls, and guarded with 52 impressive towers—including one called the “Inquisition Tower,” as it once housed the 13th century Catholic Inquisition. Crowds or not, Carcassonne is one of the best examples of a castle and fortified town that this magnificent continent has to offer, and merits a visit to southern France!
View of Reykjavik and the Atlantic Ocean, as seen from Esja Mountain, Höfuðborgarsvæðið, Iceland
Upon hearing the name of the country called “Iceland,” one probably thinks of intense cold (its climate) or intense heat (its volcanoes). Both happen to be fairly true. Roughly half of the country’s surface area is covered by mountainous lava desert. At one point, scientists think 30-40% of its’ landmass was forested, though after European settlers rapidly and maladroitly cultivated the land, its forests were destroyed and arable land weakened. Today, only small patches of trees have survived, though the Icelandic people have undertaken a massive reforestation programme intended to return their island to a healthier state. Here at the summit of Mt Esja, where you can almost see the lava fields, one can see how barren Iceland can be—but also just how beautiful.
Ah, lost deep inside the labyrinth that is this little Italian port city of Bari. Bari is a lovely, oh-so-typically Italian town overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Rude bus drivers, confusing (or nonexistent) signs, women hanging laundry on balconies while shouting across to each other three stories up, mopeds zooming down narrow streets, pizzas baking in corner shops, men playing chess on makeshift cardboard tables, teens drinking in the square, children racing each other on tiny bikes, gelato stands spilling out of windows, shoppers haggling over miniature markets. Amongst the chaos, you feel content…because, after all, this is southern Italy – and the chaos is mandatory. Italy wouldn’t really feel quite right without it!
I have to admit, I hate showing Poland – especially Warsaw – this way. But when I hear the word “abandoned,” “building” is the second word that comes to mind, and hunting through my arsenal, this one was the photo that portrayed it best. Once an apartment building, the city of Warsaw started tearing this building down in order to build the new metro line. One day there was a building there, a few days later, there was this. Then it snowed, and construction had to slow down. And so it became abandoned, making it a constant traffic jam as rubberneckers passed by, wondering what this abandoned building was doing less than a mile from Warsaw’s central train station and glitzy central business district. Nowadays, the building is gone and work continues on the metro, with hopes of finishing it this summer (but we all know how accurate construction plans are). Warsaw was almost completely destroyed in WWII (85%), and hundreds of images looking a lot like this one show what the city looked like in the 1940’s. Thankfully, the Poles are a resilient people, and they rebuilt their city as a monument to its former glory. Today, this one abandoned, destroyed building is massively outnumbered as modern Warsaw continues to grow up and thrive around it.
*Update: as 2015, the second metro line is up and running!
Андріївська церква, or, St Andrew’s Church, Kiev, Ukraine
In light of Kiev‘s recent, rather negative ascent to the spotlight, I thought I’d turn tables and show the beautiful side of the Ukrainian capital. Here is St Andrew’s Church (which also happens to be my favourite church I’ve so far visited), reaching for the heavens with its beautiful bejewelled turquoise dome. According to legend, St Andrew had planted a cross on this exact site, proclaiming that one day, it would be the site of a ‘great Christian city.’ Not exactly a cathedral, St Andrew’s namesake is no ordinary church either. Commissioned by the famous Catherine the Great, built by the famed Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli who had a penchant for extravagance and opulence (architect of St Petersburg‘s Winter Palace and Smolny Cathedral), and named for St. Andrew, the patron saint of Kiev, St Andrew’s Church was constructed in the years 1747-54 in Baroque style. However, for some reason, Catherine wasn’t pleased, and poor Rastrelli was fired. Apparently, she had no taste for beauty because today, Андріївська церкваone is one of the most beautiful buildings not only in Kiev, but in the entire continent.